Liver­pool in per­fect harmony as Klopp’s ‘boys’ head for glory

Team with zero self-doubt de­serve re­ward for their bril­liance to make up for do­mes­tic dis­ap­point­ment

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

On a drive around Liver­pool you see houses fes­tooned with ban­ners, flags and stream­ers: a Cham­pi­ons League ver­sion of Christ­mas, with space on the roof for the tro­phy the red half of Mersey­side has ev­ery right to imag­ine in their team’s pos­ses­sion this week­end.

Liver­pool’s fans were never slow to pa­rade their al­le­giance, be­fore, dur­ing or af­ter big games. The be­deck­ing of houses around An­field and the Mel­wood train­ing ground, how­ever, has a dif­fer­ent feel this time. This is not the rit­ual op­ti­mism of a nearly club. This is no un­der­dog bark. Jur­gen Klopp’s Liver­pool are a ruth­less win­ning ma­chine. The play­ers are at ease with each other, the staff are all cheer­ful and bright-eyed and the whole op­er­a­tion rolls into

Madrid know­ing that not much is be­yond the scope of this for­mi­da­ble side.

Manch­ester City were, in the Pre­mier League, but only be­cause the cham­pi­ons amassed 98 points to Liver­pool’s 97. At the same time Spurs piled up 13 de­feats to Liver­pool’s sin­gle loss: one of the rea­sons Klopp’s men are warm favourites to win a sixth Euro­pean Cup on Satur­day night.

Tot­ten­ham’s come­back against Ajax in Am­s­ter­dam – heroic though it was – was not the great­est fight­back of a seis­mic week. Liver­pool 4, Barcelona 0 will take a lot of shift­ing as the best Lazarus im­per­son­ation of the mod­ern age.

We raced on from that crazy night, to other dra­mas, other show­downs. This sport­ing life moves so fast that “last night” is al­ready dead by the time it reaches the shops. Our cul­ture says: “Yeah, that was good, what’s next?” In the Cham­pi­ons League, Ajax 2, Spurs 3 was next, and it set up an all-english fight for the ti­tle of come­back kings.

The blan­ket thrown over Lionel Messi and the re­ver­sal of a 3-0 first-leg deficit re­quired gusts of emo­tion. Storms of pas­sion drove Klopp’s team on.

The noise made your ribs shake. The great col­lec­tive push of team and An­field crowd quashed even Messi’s ta­lent for es­capol­ogy. But the crowd’s sup­port was not, I would ar­gue, the true mea­sure of this team. The real gauge is their ruth­less­ness, their to­geth­er­ness and con­fi­dence. These qual­i­ties have not al­ways shone from the “false dawn” Liver­pool teams who came to chal­lenge but then fell away.

At the club’s Cham­pi­ons League me­dia day, you could see why Liver­pool ex­ude a dif­fer­ent air these days. No longer is it An­field plus tra­di­tion against the world. Now the crowd, the team and the struc­ture all work in synch.

Klopp said ear­lier this sea­son: “We are maybe the most emo­tional club in world foot­ball.” But he said it know­ing “emo­tion” was now only one of Liver­pool’s as­sets, not the main an­i­mus. At Mel­wood yes­ter­day, Klopp said “at the mo­ment, it’s pure ex­cite­ment”, but then talked with more force about the sem­i­nal 4-0 vic­tory over Barcelona, which he calls “the best game I ever saw”.

Here’s why: “Cir­cum­stances, miss­ing play­ers, 3-0 down, stuff like that. But the boys gave me from the first minute the feel­ing of be­ing com­pletely ready for it. Not 4-0 – you can­not plan that. But 3-0, or 2-0 – it still would have been a fan­tas­tic achieve­ment, and ev­ery­one would have said ‘good re­sponse’.”

Liver­pool per­formed at such a high level that night Klopp felt him­self re­lax. This was the nir­vana all his ner­vous en­ergy drives him to­wards. Ex­cept this time the foot­ball was tak­ing him there with­out any need for histri­on­ics. “It’s not too long ago I was sprint­ing on the pitch and jump­ing on my goal­keeper,” he says, re­fer­ring to his £8,000 fine for in­vad­ing the field in a Mersey­side derby. “It was an ex­pen­sive run and I de­cided I would not do that again.”

The sub­se­quent Pre­mier League ti­tle race de­noue­ment brought only the most hon­ourable nearmiss in top-flight his­tory. Head­ing to Madrid, his “men­tal­ity gi­ants” still lack a re­ward for their bril­liance. They may lack it still at the week­end if the spirit moves Spurs to be in­spired again. They have it in them. But Klopp’s men ex­ude the air of peo­ple who will force it to go their way.

Of Satur­day’s final, Klopp says:

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